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Akchoté / Auzet / Ferrari - Impro-Micro-Acoustique

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Artist: Akchoté / Auzet / Ferrari

Album: Impro-Micro-Acoustique

Label: Blue Chopsticks

Review date: May. 6, 2004

In an interview from November 2000, David Grubbs expresses his distaste for “didactic theatricality” in improvised music, “specifically things like deliberately bumping microphones, the sounds made from plugging and unplugging instruments, changing strings, etc.” A year later, Impro-Micro-Acoustique was recorded, and two years after that, released on Grubbs’ Blue Chopsticks label. Grubbs was most likely referring to theatricality in the more visual, performative sense, rather than the strictly aural. If the visual elements of didacticism are ever to come across in an acoustic format, however, it would certainly be territory for musique concrete; a genre where composers, and more recently improvisers, place a strongly visual and contextual sounds into musical contexts.

Luc Ferrari, Noël Akchoté, and Roland Auzet form the electro-acoustic improvising trio on Impro-Micro-Acoustique, the title taken from their more or less dry genre-bending intentions. The idea, essentially, as Ferrari phrases it, is to make “real-time concrete”, an idea already well-explored to excellent results by musicians like Jerome Noetinger and the QuintetAvant group. It is also an idea already well-chartered by FennO’Berg, and comparing the almost identical artwork from the back of Impro-Micro-Acoustique to the cover of the Return of FennO’Berg album, it would be difficult to assume that Ferrari is merely in the dark about the precedent.

In the past couple of years, there has been a full-scale Ferrari revival thanks to several years of O’Rourke and Grubbs citing Presque Rien each time an interviewer would senselessly ask “What’s your favorite album?” knowing full-and-well that the answers would be always Presque Rien and Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle. This resurgence of interest paved the way for a number of wonderful reissues, each showing a different, unknown side of Ferrari. Take the bizarre Danses Organiques, a frustrating experiment from 1973. It displays a Ferrari experimenting heavily with electronics, rhythm and minimalism, in a way totally removed from both the downtown New York and British minimalists, but it is ultimately marred by Ferrari’s recurring pubescent fascinations, this time with lesbianism. More recently, a compilation of Ferrari’s early work has appeared on EMF label, showing how severe the musique concrete influence was on Ferrari before he shook it with Presque Rien but also, and more pertinent to the newest record, including a number of experiments with acoustic instruments.

It is a major disappointment to see the present-day Ferrari grasping for the relevance of his earlier work. The previous Ferrari piece on Blue Chopsticks, Cycle des Souvenirs, also ranks as one of the weakest in Ferrari’s catalog. Whereas his earlier Tautologos pieces strongly make a case for Ferrari’s predisposition towards redundancy, they contain a certain self-deprecating humor and they seem to be a necessary, inquisitive facet of Ferrari’s development. Also, Tautologos III already incorporates an interest in improvisation dating back to the early 70s. Yet both the conceptual rigor of Tautologos and the sensualism of Presque Rien’s hypnotic and vivid reductions seem to be absent in his later work. Ferrari has an amazing amount of integrity for finding so many different angles to mine the same psychological field of inquiry, yet Cycle once again shows Ferrari stepping up to his self-created minimalist approach, once again steeped deeply in Darmstadtian dissonance, cutting straight through aesthetics into palpable conceptualism. The slight variation shows diary-like sound snippets integrated into the mix, an attempt, perhaps to rectify both the strains of Tautologos and Presque Rien.

The redundancy of Impro-Micro-Acoustique is a very different one, however, because in theory, this record has amazing conceptual potential. It is not solely Ferrari’s domain: he is interacting with two other musicians, each, as the title suggests, approaching the work with discrete aesthetic intentions. There is a sense that Ferrari provides the theoretical context for this improvisation, the appeal of the record being that this elder statesman of electronic music is throwing caution to the wind and indulging in the oft-scoffed upon field of improvisation. Yet, there is very little material on this record. Each track is allegedly a meditation on a different part of the musical process: contrast, pulsation, continuousness, minimum-alism (potentially a cross between minimalism and the “micro” aesthetic of the album), and rhythm. Which shows that even from the underlying design, Impro-Micro-Acoustique is a seemingly didactic undertaking.

Pieces of concrete sound infiltrate the tracks. Telephones dialing. A completely unnecessary, silly sample of C3PO. Occasional sine tones. These elements are aren't emphasized, however, as the album is largely acoustic rather than electronic. Though the album, in theory, makes no claims to having an electronic element, the connotations of “real-time concrete” would seem to suggest more than what often seems like a largely acoustic improvisation between guitar, piano and percussion. The instrumental work seems self-indulgent in this regard, suspiciously relying on the usual squiggly dissonances augmented by rolling rhythms, all ultimately reeking of a particularly dull “out” moment on a dated free jazz record. Perhaps this can all be chalked up to Ferrari’s consistent baffling of expectations.

The biggest problem is the utterly forgettable nature of the record. There is that tense meandering that afflicts even the tightest, most stiff-lipped improvisation, but here it is without any payoff. The appeal of this record, potentially, is that each improviser is extending and challenging himself, placed in an unusual situation. Ferrari lies in the center of this equation, as he is ostensibly the most inexperienced improviser. Yet, Ferrari’s piano flourishes remain distinctly reminiscent of his piano compositions, both on the Piano –Piano and Cellule 75 records. Similarly, Akchoté remains close to his typical angular and percussive guitar palette. Auzet is the most flexible and accommodating of the group, but often the conceptual theme of the individual pieces are entirely reliant on his ability to communicate them. Imaginably, there is something stifling about being the percussionist required to play a piece about “pulsation” or rhythm, and it often comes across as such. Each player seems stuck and frustrated by preserving the novelty of the record, and perhaps, in true Ferrari fashion, unable to make the work appear to be any more than it actually is. As in Ferrari’s Presque Rien, where he refuses to cajole the sounds into a sort of contrived musicality, letting them instead stand as a lucid aural portrait of a small fishing village, on Impro-Micro-Acoustique these instruments are never asked to be any more than sources of timbre and rhythm.

By Matt Wellins

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